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Financial Happenings Blog
Wednesday, April 28 2010
My scanning of the media today has led me to a couple of articles published in The Guardian newspaper in the UK.  The article Index tracking funds trump manager returns show that the better long term performance offered by index funds is global.

If you have friends or family in the UK, I encourage you to spread the work on index fund investing.

Scott Keefer
Posted by: AT 11:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 28 2010
Index Fund Advisors (IFA) from the US have published their latest video on You Tube looking at lessons from the great fall in share markets one year on.  Some interesting food for thought.

Posted by: AT 08:17 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 28 2010
Scott Francis in his latest Eureka Report article adds to the various points of discussion surrounding the government's proposed reforms on financial advice.  Scott highlights two areas of reform which the government has chosen to avoid.  The first is addressing the qualifications required of a financial adviser, and the second is the conflict of interest that occurs when a financial adviser is employed by a financial service product provider – as most financial planners are.

Scott concludes that
the structural corruption of the financial services industry remains as long as financial product providers – from big financial service firms like AMP and the big banks through to industry super funds – can employ financial planners, who naturally are in a position that is susceptible to influence.

Further, the lack of a reasonable minimum educational standard means that even those financial planners who are driven to act in the best interest of clients may not have the knowledge to do so – which makes them and their clients still vulnerable to poor quality advice.

Click on the following link o read Scott's full article - Reforms won't stop the shonks.
Posted by: AT 08:03 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 27 2010
This morning the April edition of our free email newsletter has been emailed out to subscribers.  In this edition we:
  • comment on the recent government decision decision to ban commissions on financial products,
  • look at what else the government could do to improve the quality of financial advice,
  • discuss how to manage unexpected inflation risk,
  • outline the make up of the MSCI World and Emerging Markets indices,
  • provide an update of major investment market performance,
  • outline recent additions to the online blog,
  • provide links to the ATO's super essentials website, ASFA's Super Guru site and Vanguard's volatility chart updated to the end of March 2010, and
  • provide evidence of the three factor model in action.
To view a copy of the newsletter please click on the following link - Clear Directions April Edition.

To sign up to receive the newsletter directly into your inbox - Sign up for Clear Directions.
Posted by: AT 06:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 26 2010

Since late 2008 governments around the world have been plowing billions of dollars into the global economy to keep economies growing and workers employed.  Many have been concerned about how this will impact inflation in years to come.  For the investor this has raised the issue of how to manage investments to keep inflation from eating away too much of investment returns.


We have recently uploaded an article to the website covering he issue of Managing inflation Risk.  In this article we have included a discussion of how we think investors should look to manage inflation risk.  This article explores two basic ways to address inflation uncertainty and highlights asset groups that may prove useful.


Please do not hesitate to get in contact if you would like to discuss in more detail.


Scott Keefer
Posted by: AT 11:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 26 2010
Anyone who read a newspaper yesterday could not have missed the headlines - Tough rules for finance advisers, A better deal for investors, Commission ban to shake up financial planning.  It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the only stakeholder to lose out in the changes announced by Minister Bowen were financial planners.

I can say categorically that there are numerous financial advisers who are very happy with the steps  taken by the federal government commencing July 2012, me being one of them.  The banning of commissions removes another potential black mark held against the financial advice industry - the perception that advisers are here to "flog" financial products rather than provide independent advice relating to the specific needs of each individual client.  That said, I think there are many advisers who actually use a commission based payment model that do act in client best interests but as long as they are paid directly by the product provider this independence is put into question.  With this change there can now be much less doubt about this.

The change I also like is the removal of asset based fees on geared investments.  This targets the strategy where an adviser will recommend a client borrow money to invest in the market and not only take a percentage fee on the initial investment but also on the loaned funds.  The conflict of interest here is pretty clear and has now been removed somewhat by these proposed changes.

One concern with the planned change is that advisers will now resort to charging fees at a much higher level compared to the commissions they were receiving and in doing so block access to good financial advice for those with smaller amounts of income and assets.  Time will tell whether this is actually the case but I can assure you that there will be many firms, like A Clear Direction, working hard to create financial advice solutions for interested parties across the spectrum of wealth accumulators to retirees and high net wealth investors.

We at A Clear Direction are excited about the planned changes to the financial advice industry and believe we are already well placed for these changes as we do not accept commissions.  (NB We are required to receive commissions from some cash investments used by clients but rebate these back in full to clients each quarter.)

Bring on July 2012!
Posted by: AT 09:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 20 2010

Users of our website, through our User Voice feedback forum, have requested that we regularly update the graphs outlining the performance of the Dimensional trusts that we use in building portfolios for clients.  In response to this feedback we have updated these graphs to reflect performance up to the end of March 2010.




The graphs show a strong month of returns for all asset classes.


Over the long run, the graphs continue to clearly show the existence of the risk premiums (small, value and emerging markets) that the research tells us should exist:


Australian Share Trusts - 7 Year returns



7 Yr Return

to Mar 2010

Premium over ASX 200

Accumulation Index

ASX 200 Accumulation Index



Dimensional Australian Value Trust



Dimensional Australian Small Company Trust




International Share Trusts - 7 Year returns



7 Yr Return

to Mar 2010

Premium over MSCI World (ex Australia) Index

MSCI World (ex Australia) Index



Dimensional Global Value Trust



Dimensional Global Small Company Trust



Dimensional Emerging Markets Trust




NB - These numbers are average annual returns for the 7 year period which are slightly higher than the annualised returns.


Please click on the following link to be taken to the graphs - Dimensional Fund Performance Graphs.


For anyone new to our website, it is important to point out that we build investment portfolios for clients based on the best available academic research.  Take a look at our Building Portfolios and Our Research Based Approach pages for more details.  In our view, this research compels us to use the three factor model developed by Fama and French.  In Australia, the most effective method of investing using this model is through trusts implemented by Dimensional Fund Advisors (  We do not receive any form of commission or payment from Dimensional for using their trusts.  We use them because they provide the returns clients are entitled to from share markets.


However, academic theory is nothing if it can not be implemented and provide the returns that are promised by the research.  Therefore, we like to provide the historical returns of the funds that we use to build investment portfolios.


Please let us know if you have any feedback regarding these graphs by using the Request for More Information form to the right or via our User Voice feedback forum.



Scott Keefer


Posted by: AT 01:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, April 16 2010
Financial education consultant, Scott Francis, has today joined Warren Boland's Weekends with Warren program on ABC local radio throughout Queensland to look at the issue of who owns your financial advisor?

The basis of Scott's discussion points can be found in his Eureka Report article - Who's behind your financial adviser?
Posted by: AT 10:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 14 2010
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia have today launched a new site - Super Guru .  Since 2005 Super Guru was incorporated as part of the ASFA site but has now been expanded and set aside as a stand alone website.  The site has been designed to designed to help people engage with their super more – either by asking questions of their funds, or of the people advising them with their self managed fund.

The initial site contains a range of general information about the superannuation system and then drills down into more specific areas such as detailed budgets in retirement and self managed superannuation fund issues.

The site is well worth a look if you are wanting to get up to speed with the workings of Australia's superannuation system.

Scott Keefer
Posted by: AT 11:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 13 2010
Jim Parker in his latest commentary piece has looked at a BRW article published early 2009.  The article asked 50 market experts to draw up a roadmap for the anticipated recovery.  From their thoughts BRW put together a list of 18 stocks to hold.

Jim in his article points out how this list of 18 stocks held according to their market weight would have served investors.  Even though the 26% return sounds great, if you simply held the ASX300 index you would have earned 37.6% over the same period and 43.6% for Dimensional's Australian Value Trust (after fees).

Yet more evidence that the active, stock picking approach struggles to beat a more passive approach based on index and index style funds.

I have included Jim's full article below for those who are interested:

Mission Impossible

It's a Hollywood staple. A group of ragtag desperados is assembled to embark on a suicidal mission — think 'The Dirty Dozen' and 'The Magnificent Seven'. It makes for exciting viewing, but applying this approach to investment isn't recommended.

At the height of the bear market in early 2009, Australia's BRW magazine, a popular weekly business title, asked 50 market experts to draw up a roadmap for the anticipated recovery, including the best sectors and stocks to buy.1

The panel of 50 participants comprised fund managers, equity strategists, economists, analysts and other tipsters. From their recommendations, the magazine put together 18 "expert ideas" for the recovery.

The dozen and a half individual stock tips were split broadly between big, well-known, blue-chip companies such as QBE Insurance, BHP Billiton, Woolworths, Westfield, CSL and Boral — alongside some mid-caps, smaller stocks and outright speculative plays.

While couching its stock tips with a host of qualifications — nothing was certain, markets rarely followed a neat script and blindly relying on history was dangerous — the magazine said these were the pick of the bunch.

For the reader wanting to position themselves for the recovery, it might have seemed a reasonable assumption that assembling a concentrated portfolio comprising these 18 super stocks would be a good strategy.

But while parts of the magazine panel's ideal portfolio did do well — mostly the very small, speculative companies — only seven of the 18 stocks overall outperformed the wider market's near 40 per cent gain in 2009.

Indeed, many of the tried and true blue chips in the list underperformed the market. QBE Insurance gained just 5.3 per cent over the year, Woolworths rose 9.1 per cent and CSL actually went backwards, down 1.5 per cent.

If investors had assembled the BRW's 'rebound' portfolio at the start of 2009 and held each stock at its market cap weight, they would have seen a return of 26.8 per cent over the ensuing 12 months.

While that may sound great, it's worth pointing out that just by owning the broad market, as defined by the S&P/ASX 300 accumulation index, investors would have enjoyed a return of 37.6 per cent, a 40 per cent improvement on the magazine's ideal portfolio.

Holding a highly diverse portfolio of value stocks would have delivered an event better result. For instance, Dimensional's Australian Value Trust, with 187 stocks, posted a return in 2009, net of fees, of 43.6 per cent.

Holding such a broad range of companies in a portfolio is called diversification. It allows the investor to capture broad market and economic forces, while reducing the uncompensated risk arising from individual stocks.

This isn't to say you can't beat the market by assembling a focused portfolio. But these successes are usually more down to good luck than good judgement and they are very hard to repeat. It's like taking a punt on a horse.

In any case, as we've seen in the above example, even a portfolio assembled by the best and brightest can come up short of the mark. What chance, then, has the ordinary investor of generating consistent market-beating returns by relying on a handful of securities?

At the end of the day, gambling on a band of hand-picked individuals might work for Yul Brynner and Lee Marvin in the movies, but trying to build long-term wealth with a handful of stocks looks like mission impossible.

1'Waiting for the Rebound', Tony Featherstone, BRW magazine, Jan 8, 2009

Posted by: AT 07:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, April 10 2010
It has been some time since I provided an update on one of my favourite US financial advice sites -

This website is published by Merriman, a financial advisory firm in the US.  In the past there has been two distinct aspects of their online education assault.  The first being their website - and the second their weekly audio segment - Sound Investing.

Recently the newsletters updating new additions to either component have been amalgamated into the one
concise email - SoundInvesting Newsletter

If you have not already it is well worth signing up to this newsletter - click here

In the latest update they have highlighted an article published
in March this year by the founder Paul Merriman.  The article reminds about the principles of buy & hold and challenges readers about whether they actually are buy & holders - Ten important thoughts about buy-and-hold investing

Point #1: Buying and holding is not dead

Point #2: Many people talk about buy-and-hold without knowing exactly what it is

Point #3: Long-term investing takes a very long time

Point #4: You can buy and hold and still manage your account prudently

Point #5: Many investors think of themselves as buyers and holders but don’t act like it

Point #6: The most common reason that investors abandon a buy-and-hold approach is that they have exposed themselves to too much risk

Point #7: Some investors shouldn’t hold onto investments as long as they do
Point #8: You’re not really a buyer-and-holder if you buy a fund with a heavily traded portfolio

Point #9: Buying and holding makes the effect of a front-end load worse, not better

Point #10: Being a buy-and-hold investor may be relatively simple, but it’s not necessarily easy

I really encourage you to read this article in more detail. 

Posted by: AT 10:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 08 2010
My first share purchase was in the Woolworths float back in 1993.  Even though direct share ownership is not part of my ideal investment philosophy I keep hold of them for sentimental and capital gains tax reasons. (Plus they have done well for me over the 16 or so years.)

I have recently received a very "kind" offer from a group called Hassle Free Share Sales to buy those shares from me at $14.23 per share.  The current share value is $28.78.  So what is going on here and why can groups like this get my contact details?

Hassle Free Share Sales is a company owned by the infamous David Tweed.  Mr Tweed is well known for making unsolicited offers to shareholders at well below market prices.  It seems that the plan is to encourage less sophisticated investors to agree to sell their shares through what seems a simple process - simply signing a form and providing contact details.  Mr Tweed is legally able to access shareholding records through share registers which are available to the public and even though most of us would see his actions as unethical they are not illegal.

An interesting summary of Mr Tweed's activities can be found at Wikipedia -

Its most likely that if you are reading this blog you are not an "unsophisticated" investor but you may know someone who might get caught out by schemes such as these.  I really encourage you to spread the word and help others avoid what will turn out to be anything less than hassle free when receiving much less than the shares are valued.

Scott Keefer
Posted by: AT 06:06 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 07 2010
Weston Wellington from Dimensional Fund Advisors in his latest Down to the Wire commentary has provided a fascinating case study about an unlikely millionaire in the USA reminding us all of the power of compound interest.

The Millionaire Next Door

The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported that Grace Groner, a long-time resident of Lake Forest, Illinois, passed away in January at age 100, leaving a $7 million bequest to her alma mater, Lake Forest College. Although Groner lived in one of the country's wealthiest communities, she hardly fit the profile of a trust-fund socialite. An orphan at age twelve, she was cared for by neighbors and attended college, earning an English degree in 1931. She went to work as a secretary for nearby Abbott Laboratories in Chicago where she worked for forty-three years. She never married, never owned a car, and lived for much of her life in an apartment before moving to a tiny one-bedroom house willed to her by a friend.

Her $7 million estate was the fortuitous result of a lifetime characterized by frugality, simplicity, and a large dose of good luck. She had purchased three shares of Abbott stock for $60 each in 1935, reinvested the dividends, and never sold them. Over the subsequent seventy-five-year period, her three shares multiplied to well over 100,000, and her $180 initial investment grew over 38,000-fold to approximately $7 million.

This story brings a smile to almost everyone's face and offers a number of investment lessons as well.

  • Compound interest is a wondrous thing over long periods. To turn $180 into $7 million over 75 years requires an annualized return of 15.13%. By comparison, a similar investment grew to $3,046 in one-month US Treasury bills, $389,669 in the S&P 500 Index, and $10,435,007 in US small cap value stocks. (Annualized returns were 3.84%, 10.78% and 15.75%, respectively.) Over the long run, a little extra return goes a long way.
  • Maintaining an investment strategy requires discipline, detachment, or some combination of both. Ms. Groner had ample reason over seventy-five years to question the wisdom of holding Abbott shares, and by extension, equity investments of any kind. The shares lost roughly one-third of their value in the bear market of 1937, for example, and did not exceed the mid-$50 share price of March 1937 until March 1944. She continued to hold her shares despite plunging stock prices in 1962, 1970, 1974, 1982, 1987, 1990, 2002, and 2008.
  • In the wake of the recent financial crisis, lecturing investors on the possibility of so-called "black swan" events has become a popular pastime for authors and financial journalists. There is certainly some truth to their observations; as Gene Fama pointed out in his Ph.D. thesis published in 1965, stock returns exhibit extreme outcomes much more frequently than that predicted by a normal probability distribution. Ms. Groner's experience illustrates how some unanticipated "black swan" events can be remarkably good.
  • Could you recognize a great growth stock even if you owned it? It could be harder than you think. The most striking characteristic of Abbott's share price behavior over the past seventy-five years is how long periods of trendless or below-average performance are punctuated by brief episodes of sensational results. As an example, the 1950s were a rewarding decade for equity investors, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than tripled in value. But Abbott shares rose only 22.7%. How many of us would have had the patience to continue reinvesting dividends into an "obvious" loser after such a long drought? The same argument applies to holding an asset class such as small cap stocks or real estate after a prolonged period of weak relative results.
  • Should we seek to emulate Ms. Groner's success by making a bet on a single company? Probably not, particularly if we are seeking to use our portfolio to fund retirement expenses. Although we may admire her habit of thrift, most of us would have a hard time riding the bus for decades and wearing second-hand clothes while maintaining a multi-million-dollar portfolio. If her investments had done poorly, the loser would have been Lake Forest College, not Ms. Groner's lifestyle.
  • A major factor in Ms. Groner's success is a happy accident of geography. She was raised in Lake Forest and went to work for a firm in nearby Chicago that turned out to be one of the biggest winners in the entire US equity universe. For the fifty-year period ending in 2009, for example, only seven stocks had higher rates of return: Altria Group, Kansas City Southern, Loews, Walgreen, RadioShack, Dover, and Johnson & Johnson. But if she had chosen to work instead for other industrial leaders of the time such as DuPont, National Steel, or Nash Kelvinator—all components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average—the outcome would have been sharply different.
The moral of the story: Albert Einstein may or may not be the source of the quotation, but it appears that compounded interest truly is the "eighth wonder of the world."

John Keilman, "A Hidden Millionaire's Gift," Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2010.

David Roeder, "One Woman, Three Abbott Shares Equals $7 Million,"
Chicago Sun-Times, March 7, 2010.

Eugene F. Fama "The Behavior of Stock-Market Prices,"
Journal of Business 38, no. 1 (January 1965): 34-105.

Center for Research in Security Prices, University of Chicago.

Posted by: AT 09:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 06 2010
Regulars to this site will know that we favour an approach to investing based on index style trusts.  One of the preferred providers of those trusts is Dimensional Fund Advisors originating from the USA.  Dimensional offer more than what might be phrased plain vanilla index funds as they incorporate leading scientific research completed by Professors Fama and French in the early 1990s which has been referred to as the three factor model.

This is a major reason for preferring to use Dimensional trusts in our client portfolios.  However another significant issue is the approach Dimensional takes to applying their investment philosophy through careful trading.

Jim Parker outlines an element of this approach in a recent article - The Flexible Shopper.  Following is a reproduction of Jim's article highlighting Dimensional's careful approach.

March 2010 - The Flexible Shopper

Experienced negotiators know that the balance of power rests with the party who is prepared to walk away from the table. By contrast, those eager to reach a deal often make the biggest concessions. So it is with investing.

A financial market is like a giant electronic bazaar, filled with millions of participants haggling over the prices of individual securities. These people are all driven by varying needs. And that is where it gets interesting.

For instance, index managers who manage portfolios to a nominated benchmark will often sacrifice transaction costs, turnover and price to keep their "tracking error" as low as possible.

At the other end of the scale are managers whose convictions about particular securities can be so strong that they will treat as secondary the prices they pay, the turnover they generate, the transaction costs and the taxes.

In between is a third type, a participant who is neither sweating on matching an index nor infatuated with a particular security. Not pushed to trade, this manager has the advantage of being able to walk away from the negotiation.

This third type of manager is agnostic about one stock over another if both fit the desired characteristics of the portfolio. And with a wide variety of stocks to choose from, he doesn't have to buy a particular security at a particular time.

This gives him great flexibility so he can afford to wait for the market to come to him. In technical terms, he is not compelled to cross the "spread" that separates the highest price that someone is prepared to pay for a security from the lowest price that someone is prepared to sell it for.

This is the approach that Dimensional takes to investing. Being neither an index nor a traditionally active manager gives Dimensional unique advantages in the intense real-time electronic negotiation of global markets.

Those other participants that are compelled to trade are known as "liquidity seekers". This means their sense of urgency about trading a security is such they will pay a premium to "liquidity providers" like Dimensional.

A liquid market is one with lots of buyers and sellers. So naturally, the liquidity premium will be higher in those parts of the market where there are not many participants and where stocks are harder to trade. These are precisely the parts of the market that Dimensional specialises in.

So what is the evidence that Dimensional is earning a premium from its approach to trading? The table below tells the story. It is from in-house research carried out by Dimensional research vice president Sunil Wahal, an expert on market micro-structure. It is a study of all the US equity trades Dimensional made between January 2007 and October 2008.

This shows Dimensional over this period paid on average 15 basis points below the best ask price when it was buying stock and earned on average 13 basis points above the best bid price when it was selling stock. These price improvements were even better in small cap stocks.

The take-out for ordinary investors from all this is that Dimensional's patient, flexible and opportunistic approach to trading — its freedom to walk away from the negotiation — is a real source of added value.

And that flexibility grows out of the firm's investment philosophy. While it does not hold strong convictions about individual stocks based on earnings forecasts, neither is it focused on tracking an index.

Dimensional works with the market, keeping its transaction costs low and using its trading expertise in less liquid stocks to earn a liquidity premium.

It's smart, it's flexible and it works.

Posted by: AT 08:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 05 2010
SCAMwatch - a website published by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission - has highlighted 3 top scams to watch out for over the Easter period:

1. Fundraising activities

Easter is often a time for charitable fundraising, especially for children’s charities. Scammers often pretend to work for well-known and well-regarded charity organisations. Scammers may approach people in the street, by knocking on the door, by telephoning or by sending spam emails.

2. Malicious software and viruses

Scammers use bogus emails designed to spread malicious software and viruses onto your computer. Usually this scam involves using catchy titles and headings to entice you to open the email, such as 'your friend has sent you an Easter card'.

3. Bogus holiday and accommodation scams

Easter is a time when many families take vacations. The scammer commonly offers heavily discounted holidays and/or accommodation rates through unsolicited emails and/or telephone calls. This scam usually involves full or significant up-front payments, commonly through cash money wire (which is untraceable).

The site suggests yo employ the following strategies to protect against these scams:

Charity scams:

  • If in doubt, find the name of the charity yourself and donate directly to them.
  • Don’t rely on any phone number or website address given by the person who first called, visited or emailed you, because they could be impersonating a legitimate charity. Instead find the contact details of the charity through an internet search.
  • Never give out your personal or credit card or online account details unless you made the phone call.
  • If a collector makes a face-to-face approach, ask to see identification.

Malicious software and viruses:

  • Don’t open up any emails, including links and attachments, if you don’t recognise the email address or the sender’s name.
  • Avoid questionable websites. Some may automatically download malicious software onto your computer.
  • Keep your computer protected with the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and remember to use a good firewall.
  • If you think your computer has been infected, you may need to have the computer checked.

Bogus holiday and accommodation scams:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Contact the accommodation provider to confirm the availability of the accommodation.
  • If you receive an unsolicited call, never provide your credit card details or other personal information. Instead, get the caller’s details and say you will call them back after you have checked the offer.

A good way to keep updated on common scams is to register for SCAMwatch's email alerts -

Posted by: AT 12:42 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, April 04 2010
Index Funds Advisors in the USA provide those contemplating a switch to an Index based approach to investing some excellent resources to consider - .  Unfortunately the material is US based but the same principles are definitely applicable to Australian based investors.

Their latest contribution is a visual presentation posted on YouTube of quotes from experts supporting the approach:

Posted by: AT 09:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, April 04 2010
Financial education consultant, Scott Francis, joins Warren Boland on his Weekends with Warren ABC radio program every fortnight.  In his latest segment Scott discussed the challenges of buying your own home in current market conditions where house prices are the most unaffordable they have ever been.

For more details please take a look at the summary on ABC's website - Dreaming of a home or a dream home? or refer to Scott's Eureka Report article - New paths to home ownership
Posted by: AT 08:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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